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Kansas Program Intensifies Job Training For Adults Receiving Food Assistance

James Radlund
James Radlund is among the early participants in a new Kansas Department for Children and Families job training program for food assistance recipients.

After two years of being homeless and moving through jobs, James Radlund says he’s ready for something better.

Radlund, 46, of Pittsburg, Kansas, is one of the early participants in a new Kansas Department for Children and Families job training program for food assistance recipients.

He said it had been difficult to hold a job because of a series of circumstances, including seeking treatment for addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol, going through a divorce, losing housing after a roommate didn’t have his share of the rent and dealing with depression.

Radlund was homeless for about two years and occasionally found work, but none of the jobs lasted.

“It was a rough deal,” he said.

Now, Radlund has a place to live and a warehouse job, and he hopes the DCF training will help him become a supervisor or go into the heating and air-conditioning field. The program is just starting, but a case manager already connected Radlund with a small cash payment so he could put gas in his truck and continue going to work until payday, he said.

“They’ve already helped me out with a few things,” he said.

The program, called Generating Opportunities to Attain Lifelong Success (GOALS), is more intensive than DCF’s other education and training program, said Ruth Arensdorf, who manages both programs.

The GOALS program is only open to current food assistance recipients, Arensdorf said. About 230 people have signed up so far, she said.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of the two programs so DCF can compare if one shows better results in helping people get and maintain employment, she said.

“Our (education and training) program was a very soft-touch program,” she said. “We don’t have the ability to do as much of the training.”

Food assistance recipients can have maximum annual income of $15,312 for an individual and $31,536 for a family of four. The amount of assistance drops as income goes up.

About 41,000 Kansans are no longer receiving food assistance since the state added a requirement that childless, non-disabled adults have to work at least 20 hours per week or participate in an approved job training program. About 59 percent of those removed from food assistance found a job within one year, though about 80 percent remained below the poverty line.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded GOALS with a $13.5 million grant for three years. Kansas was one of 10 states to submit a winning proposal, Arensdorf said, and USDA will compare results of the various state programs and determine whether to expand one or several.

The program includes four phases: stabilization, training, placement and sustaining the employee in the placement, Arensdorf said. Not everyone will need stabilization, which is used with people with mental health or substance abuse needs, or other issues like a limited education or an unstable work history, she said.

“They get six months to get stabilized, to get cleaned up and sober, or to get their medications stabilized,” she said, adding some people could need longer than six months if they have extensive needs.

People who didn’t need stabilization or have completed it receive “intensive” case management, with a goal of connecting them to a specific local employer in a high-demand field, Arensdorf said.

For example, demand is strong in southwest Kansas for food service and hospitality jobs, so DCF is placing participants at a community college for short-term training to get a job in that industry that pays more than minimum wage, she said.

“A lot of those jobs when you start are very low wage, so we look at how can we plug people into that $11 to $13 (per hour) range,” she said.

Herbert Swender, president of Garden City Community College, said he expects GOALS participants to take part in short-term classes in the culinary science, welding and certified nursing assistant programs. They could add other classes, which will be one semester or shorter, if opportunities for participants to get jobs at the target wage become apparent, he said.

The idea is for participants to learn a skill they can quickly use at a job and to leave with a credential they can show employers, Swender said.

“Success will be determined based on are these people employable, and are they employed,” he said.

Neosho County Community College also will participate. Brenda Krumm, dean of outreach and workforce development, said most students will start with a six-week employment and life skills program before moving on to job training or employment.

The program will cover topics including goal-setting, money management, communication skills, basic math, resume writing and interviewing skills, she said.

Arensdorf expects that most participants will have jobs by the time they complete the program, though they will receive support for their first few months of work.

“We work closely with our employers and our clients to make sure we get over bumps the first 90 days,” she said.

Megan Hart is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach her on Twitter @meganhartMC

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